This is Part 1 of a three-part series on Is the Ground Still Cursed Today?When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God dealt punishments to them. Did the punishments God gave to Adam and Eve (and the snake) have everlasting effects? Do they all continue even to this day? Specifically, and as is the focus of here—is the ground still cursed today?
In addition to being an origin story, the story of Adam and Eve (and much of Genesis 1-11) is what is called a pourquoi story, or an etiological tale; in other words, it is a narrative that explains why things are as they are today, such as: why don’t snakes have legs? Why is childbirth painful? Why do we die?
For example, Genesis 3 says that when God cursed the snake, he somehow transformed its physical means of movement:
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:14-15)
The reader is to assume that God removed whatever form of legs (or wings?) the snake may have had. So that is why today we still see snakes that go on their bellies.
And God punished Eve by multiplying whatever pain and suffering she already would have had in childbirth:
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16)
The reader is to deduce that such hard, painful labor in child birth is God’s punishment of Eve. This punishment has carried forward through today.
Concerning Adam, his punishment is two-fold. First, God gave him an initial command with a penalty of physical death for disobedience:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Second, when Adam ate from the tree, God cursed the ground as a form of punishment for him:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Not only is the penalty of physical death in play, but God also cursed the ground because of Adam, which meant hard, painful labor for him in working the fields for food. His punishment is such that God made his life very hard in this regard—no more easy plucking fruit from trees, but now hard, painful labor working the ground among thorns and thistles gone wild.
It must be noted that the actual death sentence has to do with God barring Adam and Eve from access to the tree of life:
“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23)
God cuts Adam and Eve off from what would allow them to live forever. They are left to their own natural mortality and will now die physically without access to the tree of life. And just as with the punishments to the snake and Eve that transferred to their progeny, humans still die today. All humans. The reason is because humans are mortal and do not have access to the tree of life to eat from and live forever.
As we have seen, the punishments concerning the physical bodies of the snake, Eve, and Adam carry forward to the physical bodies of their progeny (snakes on their bellies; painful childbirth; physical death). There is no reason to doubt that this would be the case, as there was nothing that could change this, except for God’s own decree. He never changed his mind.
But what about the cursed ground? Is it still cursed today? Or did God lift the curse?
The cursed ground is the only punishment that did not have a direct consequence to the state of the physical body. The cursed ground therefore is not something that passes through human descendancy. God must uphold the curse on the ground.
We should take a moment and note the nature of the cursed ground and its consequence for man. The cursed ground continually produced thorns and thistles (prickly plants), presumably everywhere, and specifically where food was grown. These are painful if grabbed or touched. Adam is now to plant and reap where the thorns and thistles grow together with the edible plants. Imagine your own lettuce garden overgrown with thorns and thistles. The idea is thorns and thistles are heavily scattered among the plants he is to cultivate. Instead of reaching up to grab fruit off a tree in the Garden of Eden, he now must bend over and tend the ground among the thorns and thistles.
After centuries (about a thousand years per Genesis 5) of people working the cursed ground in this hard, painful labor, a light of mercy and hope appears:
When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29 and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” 30 Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)
Lamech knows the painful toil of working cursed ground. He gives a birth prophecy about Noah, that Noah will “bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” It should be noted that this is in direct reference to the cursed ground in Genesis 3. How is Noah to do this? Noah’s birth and Lamech’s prophecy are the highlight and culmination of the Chapter 5 genealogy. The author is setting up the story of Noah and the flood, and its implications for the cursed ground. The author has foreshadowed “relief” from the curse on the ground, and somehow in the story of Noah the author intends to show exactly what it means and how it comes to pass. The reader now can only expect to see this unfold. And indeed, this is what we see.
I will not recap the details of the famous flood story, which you can read (Genesis 6:1—8:19). However, the flood waters cleanse the earth of corruption and evil, wiping away all living things that have the breath of life.
When the flood is over, and Noah and all in the ark come out, Noah worships God with an animal sacrifice. And it is precisely here that we see the birth prophecy of Noah fulfilled, and what the narrator intended to say about “relief” from the cursed ground:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20-22)
God vows never again to curse the ground because of man, despite the fact that the intention of the human heart is evil from youth. This is commentary on human nature before Adam disobeyed as well as on humanity at large after Adam. God says he will never again punish man in that way. God cursed the ground as a result of Adam’s disobedience, both as a punishment and in the hope that it would be a corrective measure for Adam and all after him. This did not work, and God ended up destroying everything and everyone and starting anew. God acknowledges to himself that cursing the ground did not correct or quell the human heart’s inclination toward evil.
God also says he will never again kill every living creature as he has done.
The “relief” the author foreshadowed is the removal of the curse on the ground. If the curse on the ground were not removed, God would not say he would “never again” curse the ground. Similarly, he says he will not “ever again” kill every living creature. This terminology signifies that the actions of the cursed ground and the killing of all living creatures have been brought to completion and will never be done again. This means that there is no longer any curse on the ground. God removed the curse in the cleansing flood and fully relented of his wrath in his heart when he smelled Noah’s sacrifice, promising never to do it again. God restarted the world through the flood: the earth was cleansed and the cursed ground was restored. God fulfilled Lamech’s birth prophecy of Noah. It was Noah’s righteous sacrifice that brought relief.
But not everyone agrees with this interpretation. So let’s examine this more deeply. In Part 2, I will set out some arguments that will show why this is the most probable interpretation as the author’s intended meaning.